The black sicklebill is a large bird of paradise, with, as the name suggests, a long, strongly curved bill (2). The tail is extremely long; this species is the largest-plumed of all birds of paradise, a family well-known for its colourful and highly ornate species (2) (4). As with most members of this family of birds, male black sicklebills are significantly larger and more spectacular in appearance than females (4); they are largely black in colour but show a beautiful metallic-green and purple iridescence in certain light conditions (2). Females are brown in colour with chestnut fringes to the wing feathers. The underparts are off-white and feature delicate dark-brown barring. Both sexes possess reddish-brown eyes (2). Male black sicklebills produce nasal contact calls and a liquid quik, quik call (2).
Traded skins of birds of paradise arrived in Europe in huge quantities from 1522 to 1924. As the skins always had their legs removed, Europeans thought, erroneously and rather romantically, that the birds flew continually, constantly flying towards the sun and paradise. This is the origin of the name of the family, birds of paradise (4). Even Linnaeus (1707-1778), the Swedish creator of the modern ‘binomial’ (meaning ‘two names’) system of naming species, thought that the birds lacked legs, dubbing the greater bird of paradise Paradisea apoda, which literally translates as footless bird of paradise. The name survives today, despite the subsequent discovery of the bird’s feet!
- Male length: 100 cm(2)
- Female length: 48 cm